Vikes release Berrian, find out Cook charged with domestic assault
By Dave Campbell
AP Sports Writer
MINNEAPOLIS -- While the Minnesota Vikings cut their ties with Bernard Berrian Tuesday, the team learned that cornerback Chris Cook was charged Tuesday with trying to strangle his girlfriend, leaving her with a bloody nose and lip in an alleged attack that jeopardizes his status with the team.
Cook was charged with felony domestic assault by strangulation, which carries a penalty of up to three years in prison and a $5,000 fine.
The 24-year-old Cook, who has been suspended indefinitely by the Vikings without pay, was arrested early Saturday and released from custody Tuesday on $40,000 bail. He is barred from contact with the alleged victim and cannot leave Minnesota.
Like an incomplete pass bouncing untouched on the turf, Berrian's time in Minnesota fell well short of the hopes and expectations he raised following a strong first season with the Vikings.
Berrian was waived Tuesday, halfway into his fourth year with the team.
He met with coach Leslie Frazier on Monday about his status and had another talk scheduled for Tuesday, following his second healthy scratch in three games. Frazier declined to specify on Sunday after losing to Green Bay why he left Berrian on the inactive list again, but the coach hinted this move was coming.
Berrian watched the Oct. 9 game against Arizona on the sideline in street clothes, too, and Frazier said that was for a disciplinary reason, reportedly because he missed two team meetings. The coach said afterward he didn't "foresee any future problems" and that Berrian remained a significant part of the team's offensive plans, but the vote of confidence was conspicuously missing the last two days when Frazier gave vague answers to questions from reporters about Berrian's status.
Between those benchings, Berrian had his most productive game of the season, with five receptions for 54 yards. But even that night at Chicago, he dropped a crucial third-down pass while running wide open on a slant route, failing to give quarterback Donovan McNabb and the struggling offense an important early spark.
Cook has a court appearance set for Wednesday afternoon.
According to the complaint, Cook became upset early Saturday when he found out his girlfriend of 10 months had spoken to an ex-boyfriend. The woman told police Cook threw her on the bed at his home near the team's suburban headquarters in Eden Prairie, got on top of her, and grabbed her neck with an open hand, constricting her ability to breathe.
The complaint said the woman freed herself by grabbing Cook's hair, which he wears in shoulder-length dreadlocks. Cook then struck her in the ear, sending her crashing into a wall. As the woman ran to the living room, he grabbed her neck again and squeezed it.
Hennepin County Attorney Mike Freeman said at a news conference that Cook answered the door to the house and officers found the woman with a bloody nose and upper lip. She had marks on her neck and hemorrhaging in her eye, Freeman said, consistent with victims of strangulation. State guidelines call for a sentence of a year and a day, he said.
Multiple messages left with Cook's attorney and his agent were not returned. Cook apologized Tuesday on his Twitter account to the fans, Vikings ownership and the coaching staff, his teammates and friends and family and said, "There's always two sides to a story!!"
Earlier this year, Cook was found not guilty of brandishing a firearm after allegedly pulling a gun on a neighbor in Virginia. Freeman noted that case but said, "As far as we're concerned, there's no record."
Freeman also said he's unaware of any prior abuse in the relationship. But a recent amendment to state law makes the case against Cook more serious. The penalty for domestic abuse strangulation was enhanced to a felony in 2005.
"Before the law was changed, you could strangle someone nearly to death and the most serious thing you could be charged with was a misdemeanor punishable by at most 90 days in jail," said Minneapolis attorney Susan Gaertner, who helped spearhead the legislation while serving as Ramsey County attorney. "There was a great deal of research showing that an incident of strangulation is a huge red flag that a pattern of violence is escalating."
Freeman said his office has prosecuted more than 20 of these cases this year.
"It's a precursor in tragically too many cases to more serious events," Freeman said.
He said the alleged victim has been cooperating with the investigation.
Frazier spoke with Cook during the offseason to reiterate the importance of staying out of trouble off the field, and the second-year player emerged as the team's best in pass coverage. At 6-foot-2, he has the size to match up with taller receivers and the speed to keep up with smaller ones.
But while the Vikings fell to 1-6 in losing to Green Bay Sunday, Cook was in the county jail a few blocks away. His absence forced cornerbacks Asher Allen and Marcus Sherels into more significant playing time.
NFL spokesman Greg Aiello said the league is reviewing the matter. Such charges often bring suspensions, per the NFL's personal conduct policy. Vikings officials didn't respond Tuesday to requests for comment.
Berrian is a vested veteran, so the Vikings must pay him all of his $1.9 million salary unless another team claims him. He took a pay cut to stay this year, down from $3.9 million, and had the last two seasons of his original contract lopped off.
Berrian signed for $16 million guaranteed and made several million more than that after leaving the Bears to join the NFC North rival Vikings in 2008. Missing the deep threat they could rely on for many years with Randy Moss, the Vikings counted on Berrian to stretch the field with his elite speed and diversify their game plans to keep defenses from piling up to stop running back Adrian Peterson.
But after collecting eight touchdowns, including one punt return for a score, and 964 yards receiving that first season, Berrian went downhill quickly.
He was hampered by quadriceps, groin and hamstring injuries. He didn't connect with Brett Favre in 2009 or 2010, and this year was more of the same with McNabb. During interviews with the media, Berrian was often defensive, uncomfortable and terse.
He claimed on Monday he believes he's the same player he was in 2008 and that he's faster now than he was then. But the 30-year-old Berrian hasn't scored a touchdown in a regular season or playoff game since Nov. 22, 2009, and only twice in the last two years has he surpassed 30 yards in a game.
Devin Aromashodu and Michael Jenkins have assumed Berrian's role, running deep routes. Rookie wide receiver Stephen Burton was elevated from the practice squad to take Berrian's place on the active roster. Also, defensive end Cedric McKinley was released from the practice squad, leaving two open spots there.